Ulan Baatar, Mongolia, my 4th day in the country, three days before race start…
‘leave the apartment door locked,’ read the text from the owner in the morning. ‘we overbooked, I think an angry person will come today.’
‘huh’, I thought. that is not good. in any case I was heading out to ride so I paid it little attention.
later that night, about 9pm, another text.
‘leave the outer door unlocked. I will come there with my driver.’
‘huh’, again, I thought. I was ensconced in the bedroom of the apartment, which had another, locked, living space, that the owner said he used sometimes when he argued with his wife.
kinda weird, I thought, but I had a lock on my door, and the block was in an upcoming residential area, so, seemed safe enough…
‘what time you coming?’
12:30am and still no one had come. hearing a party raging next door, I decided to lock the door and get some sleep. I mailed him.
‘bed time. locking door. mail me if you are coming, will unlock.’
1:30am. I hear the outer door handle being tried repeatedly. I unlock my door and go into the hall. I say ‘who is it?’
no response, just whispering. very weird. had he sent someone to rob me? or what? what is going on?
the door handle goes up and down again.
‘who is it?’ I shout.
‘it is me, open the door!’ comes a heated reply. ‘open it now!’
recognised his voice but made my biggest mistake right there, as I flicked the lock. just figuring he was pissed at the locked door. wrong. i went into my room and locked that door.
immediately that handle started to go up and down.
‘open the f*cking door!’ screaming now.
footsteps go, come back, then a key in the door. I push on it but the weight of two forces it open, forces me back and a fist flies into my mouth immediately, then another. I hit the wall and there’s a hand round my throat and I am looking into the eyes of a man who is completely out of control.
I start to struggle but realize very quickly that I am not going to fight my way out of this with very much intact. nobody in the world knows where i am. at this moment.
everything I own is in this room and my passport and cash are in a pouch on the desk.
‘I f*cking hate you foreigners, you come here and…’ he wanders into a rambling, heated dialogue in Mongolian. can’t smell alcohol, so maybe drugged up. eyes are blazing.
mind racing at light speed, have to get out of this space, the guy behind stands rocking from foot to foot, a hand in his pocket, looking ready to go too if needed.
my throat is released, he shouts ‘get out! get out now!’ and hurls my computer onto the floor and then the clothes stacked on the bed.
‘alright,’ I say, calm as I can. ‘I will leave. let me get my stuff.’ I gather most into my bike bag, zip my suitcase, move to the desk and stuff my travel pouch with all my ID and cash into the back of my jeans. my tshirt is ripped and I’m wearing no shoes.
i drag it all into the outer hall. they manhandle my bike out too, I bend over to pick up my laptop bag and realize he sees the pouch. they talk in Mongolian, then he speaks to me in English, jabbing a finger inches from my face.
‘you will never leave Mongolia. I am f*cking mafia. I will rip out your intestines, your f*cking intestines. no police!’
‘yeah yeah, whatever, ok ok no police’ I say.
‘get in the elevator,’ I think, ‘and get out of here.’
elevator comes and they get in too, crammed up with me and all my stuff. more talk in Mongolian, heated. debating, I think, what to do with me next.
‘why you lock door?’ asks the other guy, eyes like slits, voice like gravel, asking like it was the worst decision I ever made, like it caused all this and like it’s gonna get no better very soon.
I just stare at him, unable to explain that this, or something like it, is exactly why I locked the door.
elevator opens, I drag the bike bag and the case out, and they are still in the hall dragging out the bike. i see his car and i know i do not want to be in it any time soon. I stand there for three seconds and think: run, or what?
I hear them talking. I imagine myself in that car. I pick the suitcase up and start to slowly back away from the apartment block door, then turn and run.
I’ve done 10 meters when I hear them chasing, hear the yelling, so I toss the heavy case between two parked cars and I run harder, bare feet on cold brick, over a road and through a housing estate and I still hear shouting, and there like a miracle is a taxi, its lights on but its driver dozing, I jump in and say the name of the race hotel, the only place I know where to go.
he asks no questions, as though this is not a highly unusual situation at all, and drives towards town.
the hotel staff, for a few moments, have no idea what to make of me, as I stand there with a ripped shirt and mud-covered bare feet and bleeding mouth in their lobby.
eventually they locate Rob Fawcett, who, along with the duty manager, eventually take me to a police station to report the events of the past 2 hours.
when we get there though, we discover that the hostel owner has already called the cops. he’s told them that I hadn’t paid my rent and had gone on the run. all my stuff, he says, is there in the room.
we go back and go up, and sure enough there it all is, as though nothing had happened. clothes stacked on bed, computer on desk, bike against the wall and even my shoes in the same place they had been earlier. the owner is nowhere to be seen. later i find the tossed bag is still there between the parked cars.
we shove it all in the taxi we arrived in, back to the hotel, and that is that. I can’t press charges because I want to race the MBC, and don’t want to get tangled up in the Mongolian legal system.
and it’s over, like a mad, bad, violent dream.
physically attacked by the guy I was paying to sleep in his room for what exact reason i still do not know.
you couldn’t script it.
Rob was awesome the whole way through, getting to bed again eventually at about 6am. the hotel manager was also fantastic, giving me a room from 7am through to the next day for a discounted single day price.
a mangled lip later and a few bumps on the forehead and I was on my way to the first stage of the Mongolia Bike Challenge.
after all this, the race, I thought, would be a breeze…